08/21/11 — Many hands in 'Burke's Big Build'

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Many hands in 'Burke's Big Build'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 21, 2011 1:50 AM

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David Burke, paralyzed in an accident in May 2010, just weeks before his graduation from Charles B. Aycock High School, smiles about his new living quarters. The handicap-accessible bedroom, living area and bathroom in the former sunroom of his family home were created through "Burke's Big Build," a project made possible by community donations and many volunteer hours.


News-Argus Staff Writer

At first glance, the red, gray and black N.C. State University bedding and gray walls might be found in the room of any average college student.

Granted, the steel gray refrigerator and swivel TV mounted on the wall, where a Netflix movie is playing, give it a more elegant look than the typical dorm room.

But upon closer observation, just beyond the sitting area, the entrance to the bathroom is slightly wider and there is a rail lining the wall and other handicap-accessible features in the shower area.

The living space represents nearly eight months of work by a slew of volunteers and local businesses that came together for "Burke's Big Build," converting a 12-by-29-foot sunroom at the home of the former Charles B. Aycock High School soccer standout paralyzed in a freak accident just weeks shy of his 2010 graduation.

David Burke, now 19, spent the bulk of the past year at an Atlanta rehab center and continues to travel to Greenville three times a week for physical and occupational therapy.

In early January, family friend Paula Schultze, whose son Patrick was a teammate of David's, set out to create a comfortable living area for David upon his return home.

It was a huge undertaking, she admits, that she was initially told would cost in excess of $25,000 to accomplish.

Undeterred, she established a bank account for donations and solicited help from church members and other supporters.

"We had so many people contacted who gave their time and supplies," she explained. "There were so many people and companies that just donated their time and services and gave us the supplies to do everything at a discounted price."

The previously balmy sunroom is now air-conditioned, pointed out Tom Burke, family patriarch, who oversaw the local project while wife Donna accompanied David to Shepard Center in Atlanta.

"The people from our church (Stoney Creek FWB) came in and took all the skylights and the glass out -- there were five skylights," Mrs. Burke said. "They just gutted it. They were sending me text pictures."

The row of sliding glass doors was also removed and roofing had to be done, added her husband, who said the project was not without complications.

"They were tearing out sheetrock, they found termites," he said, which were fortunately contained in that one area but required the walls to be rebuilt.

And then there was the plumbing, installing pipes and a septic line for the bathroom and shower area. Pipes originally put in the ceiling had to be removed and instead put in through the floor.

The project also included shingles, wiring, painting and flooring. In addition to new ceilings and floors -- featuring ceramic tiles throughout the bedroom, sitting area and bathroom -- workers poured concrete and put a covering on the carport area at the entrance to ensure easier access.

As with any home renovation project, right about now the timing is all a blur for the family.

"It was January, first of February when they gutted this room," Mrs. Burke said.

"Of last year?" Tom asked.

"Yeah, they did it before my accident," quipped David.

It's definitely been a long year, fraught with a myriad of adjustments, the family says, but the construction project, as it turned out, was actually managed pretty quickly.

"It really wasn't slow when you consider what was done," Tom said.

The work was completed a few weeks ago, Mrs. Schultze said. And it cost less than first thought.

"We raised about half the money they told us it was going to take and it's because of donations," she said. "The original (amount) projected was $25,000 -- I didn't get $13,000."

Volunteer time and energies went a long way toward making it all possible, she pointed out.

"There are people who made donations that we don't know, who are just unnamed, and volunteers that came out, (all while) we were in Atlanta," said Mrs. Burke.

And while she admits that she and her son "did have fun watching the progress" from afar, the challenge now is being able to express appreciation to the many who participated in the effort.

"We can't thank everybody but we could thank the organizers -- Ronnie and Paula Schultze and (contractor) Gary Westbrook -- I guess (Gary) just saw a real need and pitched in, and he knew everything that needed to be done," she said.

"If you made a donation, whether it was your time or money, whether you just prayed that we would be able to do it, thank you," Mrs. Schultze said. "(David's) able to move forward and do whatever it is he chooses to do."

That's essentially the bottom line, she said -- restoring any semblance of normalcy to the once-active and independent teen.

David, though, is more philosophical, preferring not to dwell upon things he can't do and, rather, focus on his future.

"If I could go back, I honestly don't have any interest in that," he said earlier last week, although admitting he does miss the sport that once consumed his life and that of his three older brothers.

He's proceeding with his education, enrolling in the college transfer program at Wayne Community College, where classes started this week. His schedule will feature a combination of courses on campus and online.

Is he ready for the whole college experience?

"Yes and no," he replied. "I don't think I'm ready. I'm not serious enough because I don't know what I'm going for. I feel like I'm gonna do well but I don't know what I'm going to try to do."

While he may be a year behind peers from his graduating class, he still manages to keep in touch and expects to run into some of them at WCC.

"I still have some really good friends that I still see and hang out with and keep up with other ones," he said.

Transportation is the next consideration, his mother says. The family is weighing whether to get a vehicle with adaptive equipment, such as hand controls, which would mean even greater independence for David.

"Finally I feel like we're approaching a new normal," Mrs. Burke said. "It's taken a year or more to get here.

"It was such a blessing to have the people from our church help us with the room -- they just really pitched in and gave us our life back."

Surveying her youngest son in his new environment -- a stark contrast to the upstairs bedroom he formerly called his own -- Mrs. Burke is just beginning to see her way clear to other projects that have been long neglected in the wake of his accident.

While most people would welcome distractions from yard work and home improvement projects, she is wishing for time, and energy, to accomplish those simple tasks.

Reflecting on the past 15 months, she recalls being told something she only now has come to understand.

"When we were in Georgia, someone really hit the nail on the head -- 'You're just in survival mode right now,'" she said. "I didn't stop to think about it.

"That's kind of what we have been in. We're finally getting out of survival mode."